Saturday, December 17, 2011

Hollywood Babylon 2 by Kenneth Anger

In Hollywood Babylon, Kenneth Anger took on the excesses of Hollywood, the hard partying, hard drinking and sex scandals that has plagued Hollywood. Everything from the drinking of W.C. Fields to the sex scandal of comedian Fatty Arbuckle was covered in a no-holds barred fashion that made the stories seems just as shocking when the book was written as the time when the scandals were happening. Hollywood Babylon II continues this tradition, uncovering the hidden sex lives of the stars and starlets, the murders, drinking binges and suicides that they lived and died by.

This book uncovers several new stories, from that of Joseph Kennedy, gone from Prohibition Booze Smuggler to Hollywood Mogul, and his downfall at the hands of Gloria Swanson, whom he fell in love with and which led to his usually excellent business sense deserting him. The true life story of Loretta Young, who started out as a wild young thing who had a daughter out of wedlock and ended up trying to become saintly and holier than thou, which led to her being called "Attilla the Nun".

The true story of James Dean, whose wild life, promiscuity and drinking led to his demise before his star could properly rise, but whom posterity treated better in death than he had ever been in life. Busby Berkeley, whose great success was laid at the door of his mother, and who nearly killed himself in the wake of her death. Luckily, he survived, and he lived to climb the ladder of success again. Then there was Alfred Hitchcock- who got off from watching women through a telescope- including Grace Kelly- and who acted out his passions onscreen, where women were treated heinously and vilely- and where he fell in love with Tippi Hedren, even attempting to seduce her by threatening to ruin her on the set of "Marnie", but when she refused him, he refused to speak with her for the rest of the movie.

True stories of suicide, drinking, murder and perverse sex and affairs fill out the remainder of the volume. Some aren't covered in words, just pictures. The saddest thing about this book is that it is shoddily researched, and many of the "stories" are just that... stories that may (and almost certainly may not be) true. One of the "stories" is merely a short diatribe exulting in the death of Gloria Swanson. It doesn't make any claims about her one way or another, it's just the equivalent of the author shouting how glad he is that she is dead. Not so fun, actually.

There are few longer sections in this book- but some of the longer ones, like a list of Hollywood Suicides, merely gathers together information on the great, and not so great, and tells how they ended their lives- by drowning, by guns, by gas, by hanging, and by pills. Most of the "stars" I had honestly never heard of, but a few were still affecting, like that of actress Pier Angelli, whose amazing beauty caught everyone's eye, but whose depression over being close to 40 led her to take her own life, for she believed that "at 40, everything is over".

Most of the stories are fairly mean-spirited and rather depressing, and the author's lack of research into the truth of the stories he presents is a crippling flaw. And this volume is equally badly represented- he tells us in the opening pages of the book that these are stories that were told to him, which is why he decided to write another book after the first. Not quite as shocking as the first "Hollywood Babylon", this is scandal-rag fare, and about as well researched and true. Read, but keep a five pound salt block on hand as you do...

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